Tuesday 31 December 2019

Favourite books of 2019

So, this year I read 73 books. I thought that was about average but when I checked Goodreads it's actually slightly above because for the 4 years before that my totals were in the late 50s and 60s. (2014 was a complete anomaly with 101 and I'm still not sure how that happened as I'm not a fast reader.) Very happy with 73, so quantity was fine, but what about quality?

First of all I'll list my favourite books of the year.


The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell. This was so interesting that it almost read like fiction. I particularly enjoyed the World War 2 sections.

21st. Century Yokel by Tom Cox. I didn't review this one properly but it was a delightful book about walking in the Devon countryside and about the author's life and family.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Excellent account of Germany in the 1930s before the outbreak of WW2. Will definitely be reading more by this author.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell. A warts and all look at moving to Denmark and trying to assimilate. It left me with a very strong sense of what Denmark is like.


How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. A simply brilliant installment of the Armand Gamache series in which a lot of loose ends are finally tied up. Brilliant.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie. Not quite the usual thing from Christie as it's not Poirot or Miss Marple and nor is it set in a country pile. But I thought it was huge fun and couldn't put it down.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. Pharmaceutical shenanigans in the Amazon rain forest. 'Wonderful' sense of place and beautiful writing.

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie goes hop-picking in Kent. My mother went as a child, how could this book possibly fail?

So... 22 non-fiction books read this year, out of 73. Somewhere between a third and a quarter. I always think I sould read more, it never happens so I need to resign myself to that and 22's not bad anyway.

So, what about quality as opposed to quantity? I found I was able to choose the best non-fiction much more easily than the fiction. For some reason certain non-fictions really stood out, but very few fiction books did. Yes, they were mostly good and I enjoyed the vast majority, but not that many were really fantastic. Thus, I have to say that my book of the year is this:

The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell. It was just brilliant. Very readable and of course it didn't harm that the Mitford sisters were such an interesting and in some instances, contraversial, family. Terrific book.

One thing I must mention is that this year was a year in which I rediscovered the Maisie Dobbs series of historical crime books, thanks to Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. What a joy they are and I'm planning to crack on with the series in 2020... but that's for another post.

The other thing I want to mention is that I attempted 5 challenges this year and completed 4. That led to me reading a vast amount of crime stories and quite a few books about European countries. So that worked very nicely for me but if I'm honest, 5 is too many, I ended up virtually blogging about every book I read and that was tiring. In 2020 I'll be doing just 2 and suspect that will work much better for me.

Happy New Year to you lovely folk who regularly visit my book blog and comment and engage in lovely conversations about books. Thank you, you've no idea how much I appreciate it.



(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Great list - I enjoyed State of Wonder and How the Light Gets In as well. Happy New Year to you and yours.

Jeane said...

You had a good reading year! I think I'd like to read the Year of Living Danishly- I have family ancestry in Denmark but don't know much about it.

Sam said...

I'm happy to see that three of my favorite books made your list this year.

And, as usual, I have to keep a pen and piece of paper handy this time of year when all the "Best of" lists start showing up. My TBR list is growing quicker than ever thanks to you and a few other trusted sources.

Happy New Year! See you next year.

Nan said...

Oh, to have a mother who picked hops. It sounds so lovely. That book is one of my favorite Maisie books
I have the Lovell book, and keep meaning to begin.
I read 65 this year, with 3 nonfiction, and 4 nonfiction graphic books. I have so much nf on my shelves. May this be the year that I read more of my print books.
I look forward to the book you sent me!!

Cath said...

Diane: I'm hoping to read more books like State of Wonder next year. And of course more Louise Penny!

Jeane: I'm not a fast reader so for me 73 is not too bad. The Year of Living Danishly will give you a really good insight into Denmark and its people.

Sam: Yes, three of your books are on my list, testament I think to how influenced a lot of us book bloggers are by other book bloggers and what they're reading. But then I suppose that's the whole idea. LOL

Yes, the 'Best of 2019' posts always add to my 'want to read' lists too. Thank you for calling me a 'trusted source'... I feel quite honoured.

Nan: I didn't actually know my mother went hop picking until just a few years before her death. She just came out with it one day. Magical.

When you get to the Lovell book I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. This year I have her book about the Churchills to read, so looking forward to it.

Ah, for once we have not read the same amount of books but are not that far apart I notice.

The Tom Cox I sent you is right up your alley, I promise... as you can see it made my favourites list too.

Kay said...

Glad your reading year was satisfying and I love hearing about the non-fiction that many of my blogging friends read - even if I read very little of it myself. How The Light Gets In might be one of my favorite books of all time. It certainly does tie up a number of things. I'm looking forward to 2020 and seeing what we all get up to. Love talking books and life with you, Cath. Happy New Year and take care...

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

Happy New Year Cath - I've enjoyed reading your posts especially the non-fiction ones as I read very little NF (11, I think out of 96). Maybe this year I'll manage more - I still have the Mitford Sisters' Letters on my TBR shelves from years ago.

I'm cutting right back on challenges this year. As you say doing them means blogging about nearly every book I read when I didn't really want to. So I've only committed to doing the Calendar of Crime so far, although I am tempted to do Bev's Mount TBR challenge again.

Robin said...

It sounds like an enjoyable and interesting reading year, Cath! I’m looking forward to listening to the audiobook version of State of Wonder soon, and I’m going to add Mitford Girls to my list! Happy New Year and happy reading in 2020!

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I stand guilty, along with so many of our fellow blogging companions, of reading very little non-fiction. However with some of the amazing sounding NF books you have featured, I am thinking that is more 'my loss, your gain' and perhaps I should expand my horizons a little! I am particularly beginning to like the thought of some possible history NF, as I don't see memoirs ever figuring big on my horizon!

I am still struggling with all the 'series' reading, which you and so many of our fellow bloggers manage to achieve, although perhaps if that was where I concentrated some of my efforts, my Goodreads challenge total might not be quite so difficult to attain.

Ann Patchett, is another author who has been on my radar for some time and 'State Of Wonder' does have a particularly strong and intriguing premise, so that might be a good place to start.

Happy New Year and I hope that 2020 is the start of a new decade of happy reading for us all :)


Judith said...

Hi Cath,
Yes, State of Wonder was a stupendous book. For me, it was one of those "once in a lifetime" kind of books (not to be seen again likely), as was Barbara Kingsolver's incredible book The Poisonwood Bible, set in central Africa (The Congo). Never thought I'd come to marvel at a book set in the Congo, but a white missionary family from the US makes it easy to ease into that part of the world.
And yes! You have placed The Mitford Sisters on my list! Thank you!

Cath said...

Kay: Yes, I agree about How the Light Gets In, and Bury Your Dead would come into the 'wonderful' category for me too. To be honest, the whole series does!

I too am looking forward to 2020 and seeing what we all get up to. :-)

Margaret: Thank you... I want to concentrate a bit more on non-fiction this year, I always say that of course but this year I mean it. I'm only aiming to read 50 books this year so I reckon 25 non-fiction books ought to be doable. We shall see.

Yes, I found 5 challenges was just too much stress and for the last 4 months of 2019 I really didn't need extra stress, life was awkward enough. I've committed to just 2 this year, both of them very doable involving 12 books for one (Mount TBR) and a minimum of 5 for the other (the European). That's not to say I haven't been tempted though! LOL

Robin: I hope you enjoy State of Wonder as much as I did. It's a book that has a *lot* going for it, but first and foremost such beautiful writing. Hard not to overstate how much I enjoyed The Mitford Girls, it's *long* but I just devoured it. Mary Lovell is year another excellent writer.

Yvonne: My relationship with non-fiction started in the late 80s when I read a biography of Mihail Gorbachev believe it or not. It led me on to all kinds of other books and I'm so grateful I picked that one up originally.

With series reading I find I have to work my way through them gradually, some people gobble them up one after the other but I find I need a break to read something else. So for me 'slowly-slowly' works nicely.

I'm so looking forward to the next decade of reading too and sharing it with all my blogging friends.

Judith: Yes, I agree about State of Wonder and The Poisonwood Bible, they're also quite similar in some respects, making me wonder what damage we're actually doing in under-developed countries - although I've wondered about that for a very long time. I'd quite like to read more in that vein next year but am not sure what I should read.

I'm so glad you want to read The Mitford Girls, such a huge swathe of history covered by that book and it's particularly good on Unity and Diana's relationship with Hitler and the Nazis.

DesLily said...

Long ago I read "The Sisters" about the Mitford girls... I thought you read about them long ago also ... guessing not .lol

Cath said...

Pat: No, read it in 2019 after *many* years of prevaricating over the book. I have many more like that on my shelves!

Susan said...

The only one I've read on this list is HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, which is one of my favorite books in the Armand Gamache series! I read the first Maisie Dobbs novel when it came out and I liked it, but I never continued with the series for some reason. Now I'd have to re-read the first in order to proceed. One of these days!

Happy New Year, Cath!

Jo said...

Happy New Year.

I recommend the Mitford Murders series written by Jessica Fellowes, it is fiction but uses each of the sisters as a main protagonist in a series of crimes. They are well researched and are actually all based on quite a number of facts, which you don’t realise until the end of the book.
There are three so far, in order of older sister Nancy onwards with a fourth this year. Do pop by my blog to have a look at my reviews.

Cath said...

Susan: Yes, How the Light Gets In is one of my favourite Gamache books too, along with Bury Your Dead, the English library one. Truthfully though, I've enjoyed them all. I had to reread the first Maisie Dobbs book and surprisingly found I was through it in a day or two and have not looked back.

Jo: Thank you... I'll investigate the Mitford Murder series, I have heard about them, probably on your blog.